Britain Trips Up and Props Up Its Declining Pubs

Market forces and regulations are hurting Britain's traditional pub culture. Ergo, the need for regulations to help save them.

Is the traditional British pub going the way of the British Empire?

England's pubs are an integral part of the nation's social fabric. In addition to serving as drinking establishments, they're places where one can bring kids and, on occasion, leave them behind.

But their numbers are in steady decline.

The future of traditional pubs is certainly on the minds of Britons, whose relationship with them stretches back centuries.

A New York Times article this week looked at the declining pub numbers and tackled many of the issues that Britain's pubs face. Those include declining beer consumption nationwide, real estate prices, and the country's unique pub ownership system—in which pubs often are "tied" to a brewer through ownership or contract. (A little more than one-third of pubs operate independently.)

Those issues, though quite real, fall largely outside of the relationship between pubs and government. But I find other issues facing Britain's pubs to be particularly interesting because they highlight this eternal question: How will government attempt to solve the problems it creates?

The answer, typically—and especially, when it comes to food laws and polices—is more government.

One issue facing Britain's pubs is taxation.

While the Times noted the tax issue briefly—stating that the UK government last year "reduced the tax paid on every pint of beer, by a penny"—the problem runs much deeper. That minor blip halted decades of increased taxes. Today, more than one-third of the average pub price for every pint is swallowed by taxes, according to data provided by the Campaign for Real Ale, a UK drinkers' rights group.

Another issue is licensing related to pub closing times.

For generations, early pub closings were "as much as part of English lore as Big Ben and double-decker buses," reported the Washington Post in 2005. A law that took effect that year allowed some pubs to pay more in fees to stay open later. But few pubs have done so. And many pubs' licenses still don't permit them to be open at times when most people might want to grab a pint.

Earlier this month, for example, the UK government declared that pubs "will not be allowed to open late during England's opening World Cup [football soccer] match this summer." That game, against Italy, begins at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, when at least some pubs would require a one-time exemption, costing about $35 per pub, to stay open later.

Prime Minister David Cameron quickly overruled his Home Office. But the point—that many of England's pubs are forced by regulators to close earlier than customers might want—remains.

Despite that fact, a law enforcement lobbying group sounded the alarm last year over what it characterized as a rise in drunken "mayhem," the result of some pub hours having been extended.

But a subsequent University of Cambridge study poured cold water on the claims.

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  • Ted S.||

    No mention of smoking?

  • Jon Lester||

    That was my first thought. Even the last of Romania's state-owned day bars is smoker friendly, at least as of 2007.

  • Marc St. Stephen||

    Yeah, you'd think the writer of this article would at least note the fact that British Pub decline began landsliding right after Britain banned smoking in all of them (and, yes, this is well documented). God forbid that politically inconvenient reality be mentioned.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    You think reason is in favor of smoking bans?

  • BethanyButlerpu||

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  • Pompey||

    Taboola probably has all the answers. Heeeeeeey Ta-BOOLA!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    At least part of the decline is due to market forces.

    Seems like the market is being perverted by their overregulation. The Limeys could try some middle ground, perhaps refrain from both activities, maybe stop helping and hindering pub operators.

  • juris imprudent||

    perhaps refrain from both activities

    /leftie-statist-regulator: You mean, do nothing? You can't be serious.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    On NPR this week they had an entire call in show dedicated to the idea that the federal government and state attorneys general should file suit against 'Big Food' in the same way that they did against 'Big Tobacco' to 'recover' the costs the government and society have to pay for treating the 'consequences' of 'Big Food's' business (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc). I realize personal responsibility is already dead, but this is like going to the cemetery, digging up its body and kicking it.

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    If they do that, it will be pure HELL.

  • From the Tundra||

    You mean that special hell of having to watch the US play Finland for the fucking bronze? That kind of hell?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    And lose 5-0?

  • From the Tundra||

    Shit, it's just embarrassing. Ah, well, it's nice to see Grandlund playing so well. I guess I'll just have to look forward to the NHL starting up again.

    WTF is the deal with the early start for the gold medal game tomorrow?

  • Sevo||

    ..."the federal government and state attorneys general should file suit against 'Big Food'"...

    And they'll have pajama-boy explain that only the nasty KORPORASHUNS will have to pay the fine, not the customers!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    The 'logic' here is that if an industry sells a product that through some people's use leads to them needing health care, and if the government is involved in health care, then that industry is responsible for those costs and should help pay them. This can extend to so many industries. You make ATVs? Well, some people get hurt using them, go the hospital, and the government pays for some of that, so the ATV makers are responsible. You make guns? Well, some people get hurt using them, go to the hospital, and the government pays for some of that, so the gun makers are responsible. You make alcohol? Knives? Etc. It's an octopus whose tentacles are ever reaching.

    Of course, the idea that perhaps we should address that second premise is never discussed.

  • Jordan||

    As if that weren't insidious enough, this logic can be extended to things like sugar bans, and no doubt future bans on risky activities like rock climbing, scuba diving, etc.

  • Lady Bertrum||

    If some people are concerned about the negative consequence of too much sugar then why not quit subsidizing sugar production?

  • Jordan||

    Why do you hate the noble sugar farmer, Lady Bertrum?

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    She doesn't. She hates their chillunz.

  • Raven Nation||

    Sometimes they'll even attack national icons. Reason's comment regulatory software won't let me post the link from Radio New Zealand. But here's the salient paragraphs:

    Campaigners against sugary drinks say Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the All Blacks is "totally inappropriate" and "an embarrassment".

    Health professionals at a conference in Auckland say fizzy drinks and flavoured milk cause many preventable problems such as diabetes, obesity and rotten teeth.

    The principal dental officer for Nelson and Marlborough, Rob Beaglehole, says using the country's most recognised sports stars to sell the Coca-Cola brand is totally inappropriate.
  • GILMORE||

    "Reason's comment regulatory software"

    What?

    Don't talk about squirrels like that. They have feelings.

  • Raven Nation||

    You're right. I'm sorry. Allow me to re-phrase:

    Reason's Squirrels for the Common Good decided, for the protection of the commentariat, to not allow me to post the link.

  • ||

    I've been assured by people like Tony (irl) that this will never happen because...government is noble or some such bullshit.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Unfortunately this is encouraged by the vagueness common law system.

    Of course around here, it's like the common law was brought down by Mises from the mountain, asset forfeiture and executive privilege and all.

  • ||

    What?

  • dinkster||

    Voices in your head. Mises couldn't read all the laws on the books in his lifetime.

  • Pavlov's Cat||

    file suit against 'Big Food' ... to 'recover' the costs the government and society have to pay for treating the 'consequences' of 'Big Food's' business (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc).

    This is a problem that can be traced back to Big Government in several ways. The biggest is to the McGovern Commission's dietary recommendations, which was the beginning of government pressure on 'Big Food' to shift away from fats, toward carbohydrate and sugar. Yes, I believe in personal responsibility, but with them lying to us for decades, it's understandable that people get it wrong. And errors in knowledge are quite different than errors in choice.

  • Jordan||

    McGovern Commission's dietary recommendations

    It really is amazing how much suffering has been caused, and how much wealth has been destroyed because of that fraud. Well, the real fraud lies with Ancel Keys and the Lipid Hypothesis. Reminds me of another scientific "consensus"...

  • Lady Bertrum||

    After reading Taubes on this subject, I don't know how anyone can NOT be a libertarian.

    The feds created our obesity and health situation with their crappy, political science and awful subsidies.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Carbs may really do more to make people fat, but even so, Taubes is an idiot.

  • Jordan||

    Why?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Because he ignores basic scientific principles to push his argument. I'm not saying the argument is totally invalid. He brings up some interesting points and presents evidence for some things. But statements like "thermodynamics doesn't matter, carbs matter" (I may be paraphrasing), are just plain silly. As are statements like "there are no fat carnivores in nature" (again, maybe paraphrasing). Um, Gary, I have some marine mammals to introduce you to.

  • Jordan||

    Taubes never says thermodynamics doesn't matter. He merely says that just citing the 2nd law of thermodynamics is meaningless. The point is, your body treats excess fat calories differently by expending more energy via metabolic processes than it does carbs.

  • Jordan||

    First* law

  • LynchPin1477||

    I am pretty sure there is a direct quote from "Why People Get Fat" that reads along the lines of "thermodynamics [or maybe physics] doesn't matter, carbs matter."

    Your body might raise your metabolism in response to fat more than carbs, but if I eat 5,000 calories worth of fat and protein a day and no carbs, and then sit on my ass, my metabolism won't magically rise to burn the excess. I'll get fat. An increase in metabolism in response to the *types* of calories one is eating might be a second order effect, and maybe even a really important one under certain circumstances. But it can only be pushed so far.

    You absolutely can get fat eating a high fat, high protein, low carb diet, and you absolutely can be thin eating a diet that is relatively high in carbs.

  • Jordan||

    Your body might raise your metabolism in response to fat more than carbs, but if I eat 5,000 calories worth of fat and protein a day and no carbs, and then sit on my ass, my metabolism won't magically rise to burn the excess.


    Why I Didn’t Get Fat From Eating 5,000 Calories A Day Of A High Fat Diet

  • LynchPin1477||

    Interesting story, but I want to see more specifics of that guy's exercise regimen beyond just weights and "taking walks in nature". He only presents one half of the story.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    This line of thought always baffled me. Most of the developing world's population subsists on an extremely carb-skewed diet, yet obesity is unusual there.

  • ||

    I love these arguments. Does no one know how the Krebs Cycle works? You do realize that it doesn't matter at all which input it is, it's all glucose in the Cycle?

    Jesus, my biology degree isn't worth squat but at least I know how metabolic cycles work.

  • Jordan||

    Your argument is no more complete than those who just shout about the First Law of Thermodynamics.

    See here and here.

  • ||

    There clearly seems to be a difference for some people when they eat a lot of carbs. I'm not disputing that. And those effects may be hepatic. What I really have a problem with is the idea that as omnivores, we somehow can't eat carbs without a problem. That's asinine. Europe is based on bread. Asia is based on rice. Huge, colossal human populations eat, survive, and thrive on heavy carb diets, and have throughout human history. We can eat anything; that's the point of being onmivores.

    But if a certain segment of the population tends to get fat on high carb diets, we now get the animists who need to declare carbs as a supernatural evil, never to be touched less they sully the human body. It's like anti-smoking or anti-drinking advocates; now we have to declare these things utterly evil and off limits lest they sully our bodies.

    People get really fucking stupid about base things like sex, mind-altering substances...and food. They want there to be some magical secret that if followed, perfects everything. It doesn't work that fucking way. There is no secret.

  • Jordan||

    But if a certain segment of the population tends to get fat on high carb diets, we now get the animists who need to declare carbs as a supernatural evil, never to be touched less they sully the human body.

    Okay. Well, you go find somebody making that argument and have fun. My point is, and always has been, that it's just easier to get fat on a high carb diet.

  • Kevin47||

    You mean giving obese populations money to buy more food is a bad idea? I'm baffled by your logic.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The personal responsibility argument doesn't fly (as it didn't in the tobacco cases) because the states didn't choose to have people eat junk food.

    Someone did something + it caused you financial harm = cause of action

    You don't like it, join me and the other LAOLs in championing a transition to civil law.

  • Fluffy||

    Tulpa, that's just not an accurate description of the legal issues involved.

    What the state is doing with health care spending, no private actor would ever be allowed to do.

    If I shipped you a new car you never ordered, and then attempted to charge you for it afterwards, the common law would tell me to screw.

    A cost I voluntarily assume because I decided to give something away is not a cost I'm entitled to pursue anyone for under the common law.

    The state is voluntarily giving money away to pay for health care. It should not be able to pursue ANYONE for "contributing" to those charity costs. If the state does not like the amount it's spending on health care, it should just not spend it.

  • LynchPin1477||

    OK, IANAL, but the states did choose to take on the burden of health care. If the government hadn't taken that positive action, they would not have opened themselves to having to bear the cost of people's choices. And it isn't incidental. The whole point of government involvement in health care is to assume some of the costs.

    So no, "they" (legislators and regulators) didn't choose to have people eat junk food, but they chose to take on that burden associated with people's choices, including the choice to eat junk food.

    Therefore, fuck them. If the states don't like the consequences of their meddling, they can stop meddling.

    Even if you don't accept that argument, it makes infinitely more sense to go after the people who eat the junk food. To rephrase your argument, "big food" didn't choose to have people eat their products, they just chose to make and sell them.

    If the personal responsibility argument doesn't fly, it is because people are being mendacious, not because it isn't a valid argument.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    I would also say that food businesses pay for some of this health care.

  • wwhorton||

    If the states assume the cost of health care voluntarily then they can't complain when they have to actually spend money on it. If you're swinging your arms around I can't carefully place my face in front of your fist and then claim that you assaulted me.

  • ||

    That is almost certainly not true Tulpa.

    I'd say something glib, but nothing is popping into my mind at this moment. :-D

  • robc||

    LAOL

    Hail Eris!

  • Jordan||

    Meanwhile, in Ukraine:

    Ukrainian president denounces coup as protesters take over Kiev

    -Yulia Tymoshenko to be released from prison in Kharkiv
    -President Yanukovych wherabouts unknown after fleeing Kiev
    -Parliament appoints new speaker and interior minister
    -Protesters take over security in Kiev
    -Regional politicians declare constitutional control in Kharkiv

    And Venezuela:

    Not Satisfied With Blocking Twitter And TV, Venezuela Shuts Off The Internet

  • Jerry on the boat||

  • ||

    Also in Venezuela, Cuba--yes, Cuba--sent in some troops to help quell the uprisings.

    Viva La Revolucion!

  • Sevo||

    "-Yulia Tymoshenko to be released from prison in Kharkiv
    -President Yanukovych wherabouts unknown after fleeing Kiev
    -Parliament appoints new speaker and interior minister
    -Protesters take over security in Kiev
    -Regional politicians declare constitutional control in Kharkiv"

    OK, but I still don't know whether the opposition desires something we might call a liberal economy or just their choice of a 'free shit' source.

  • SusanM||

    I think it's a matter of them going for the devil they don't know.

  • Sevo||

    Man, that's a lot of grief to get away from Putin!

  • Joao||

    Mother, may I?

    The Brits have gone French.

  • Mike M.||

    This. All of Britain has been declining for many years now; why would the pubs be an exception?

  • LynchPin1477||

    I read that as "why would pubes be an exception".

    I have to say that I don't think declining pubes would be a bad thing, though.

  • paranoid android||

    It would be if you were a pubic louse!

  • LynchPin1477||

    In a public house?

  • GILMORE||

    "Mike M.|2.22.14 @ 11:12AM|#

    This. All of Britain has been declining for many years now; why would the pubs be an exception?

    Pubs have been at the vanguard of British decline! Please, give credit where credit is due.

    I used to be a food/beverage analyst at a british company that did annual research on stuff like this topic...

    http://www.datamonitor.com/sto.....340A355B73

    This perennial schizophrenic hand-wringing about the British national pasttime was an endless source of amusement for me, particularly when sitting in a pub and listening to the labyrinthine rationales forwarded about Sensible Regulations and their apparently 'Bizarre', unforeseen-consequences.

    It was a key feature of the british character = utter, unshakable faith in the power of government to address all manner of social-ills, and an endless wonder and shock at the real-world impacts of well-intentioned regulations. It is like they commissioned a group of bureaucrats 1000 years ago to find a way to get a square peg through a round hole, and while progress has clearly been made, it seems budgeting has been insufficient.

  • Raven Nation||

    I've been fascinated by the idea that Britain has been some paragon of political rights. It's hard to pinpoint when that would ever have been. Certainly there have been British philosophers who have espoused such rights, but in practice, not so much. By bizarre coincidence, I have spent several hours this morning paging through a 17th century manual for English JPs and have been overwhelmed by how many laws they had.

    I think the idea of English rights has a lot to do with the contrast with, say, the French, Spanish, Russians, etc.

  • GILMORE||

    "I've been fascinated by the idea that Britain has been some paragon of political rights."

    Magna Carta 1215. Translation of bible to English 1300s. the succession of the Church of England from Rome, 1500s. Habeus Corpus 1679 - 1689 Declaration of Rights. blar blah blar.

    A funny side note = a younger, Oxbridge british guy who'd never been to the US was remarking on how he imagined Americans probably saw the English. "I suppose you think we're a nation of nothing but footballers and rockstars, arty types, actors..."

    I laughed my beer through my nose.

    It is hard to describe his disappointment when I explained that, a) no one in the US really knows or cares anything about sports in England, and b) we think of them as being almost entirely a nation of Stuffy, Officious, Snotty, Bureaucratic pricks, who are primarily useful in doing voice-overs for luxury car commercials, and providing the occasional half-assed actor-fop like Hugh Grant for middle aged women to fawn over. And Oasis was a minor blip on the radar = not the second coming of the Beatles.

    I bought him another been to make him feel better.

  • GILMORE||

    "secession"

    @#$*(&@ spellcheck.

  • Harvard||

    Generations ago, my dear friend.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Wow, it won't be long before the number of pubs in the UK decreases below the number of dentists.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It is like they commissioned a group of bureaucrats 1000 years ago to find a way to get a square peg through a round hole, and while progress has clearly been made, it seems budgeting has been insufficient.

    NEEDZ MOAR BIGGUR HAMMAH!

  • GILMORE||

    (contd)

    back when I was in England (~2002-2004), it was a topic I brought up all the time. particularly their restricted pub hours, and the fact that they'd created a system that *incentivized* people to shovel 10 pints into themselves in a short time, consequently producing drunken vomiting mobs flooding the tube at the same time every evening. We'd go on and on about all the niggling little details, and I'd laugh myself to pieces at the contortions they'd try and use to rationalize one thing or another... until one particularly-insightful guy finally offered to me, "We're an old country, and we have a National hardon for Rules. We invented the Queue. We follow orders. We like things tidy, and believe there should be a Department of Tidy to keep things that way" (that was in my response to their endless list of ridiculous 'Ministries').... in short, he accepted Britian's regulatory insanity as a reflection of their National Character, something that could not be fought or changed or ameliorated, but rather which you simply Dealt With.

    He also saw this as one main distinction between brits and Americans. We hate Rules... but we *desperately need them* because we're such an uncultured mob of selfish egomaniacs. So we complain endlessly about them. The brits just groan and keep drinking.

  • robc||

    We hate Rules... but we *desperately need them*

    And people like Tulpa are trying as hard as they can to give them to us.

  • Byte Me||

    Rules? Where we're going, we don't need rules.

  • nicmart||

    No doubt technophiliac Virginia Postrel is thrilled that devices are replacing social life in Western countries.

  • LarryA||

    But to the extent it's the result of senseless regulations and taxes, Britons have a right to be outraged.

    Really? Did they not vote for the government that passed the regulations and collected the taxes?

  • Redmanfms||

    Really? Did they not vote for the government that passed the regulations and collected the taxes?

    Jesus, I wish this bit of sophistry would die.

    Yeah we have no right to bitch about the colossal fuck-up that is Obamacare because "we" voted for the government that passed the law. FFS

  • RishJoMo||

    I dont know if I like the sound of that or not dude.

    www.RealAnon.tk

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